Sorry seems to be the hardest word of all
Of all the aspersions cast on the Greeks’ legal system in the Harry Maguire case, perhaps the daftest is their perceived temerity in conducting his trial in their own language. “To make matters worse the proceedings are all in a foreign tongue to him,” wrote Disgusted of Doha himself, Richard Keys. Of course, if Maguire was so worried about events in that Syros courtroom being a bewildering blur, then he could have countenanced a truly drastic measure, like turning up.
As the dust settled on Maguire’s convictions for assault, resisting arrest and attempted bribery, now nullified in the wake of his appeal, the common thread among reactions in Greece was one of indignation at the player’s arrogance. As Ioannis-Iakovos Paradissis, the lawyer representing the police officers Maguire was accused of assaulting, pointed out, there was never a trace of contrition. He described such behaviour as “insulting, both for the police and the country in which they come for vacation”.
According to the Keys school of thought, the trial was a “sham”, with a farcical judgment handed down with indecent haste by a kangaroo court. There is, however, another side to all this: that the Greek courts follow an inquisitorial system, where three judges bombard the defendant with questions. It could hardly have harmed Maguire to honour such a procedure with his presence.
Instead, those in court were left with the impression of a man who lacked humility. “My clients told me they are still waiting for an apology,” Paradissis said. “This is what I find quite shocking and unsportsmanlike, because fair play means when I’ve done something wrong, I apologise.”
In the words of Maguire’s brother, Laurence, there is “no chance” any apology will be forthcoming. Manchester United have decided, too, that the centre-back should keep the captain’s armband. The club stress that as Maguire’s appeal has since been accepted in Greece, he has no criminal record and a full retrial is to take place in a more senior court. The nature of the Greek judicial process has satisfied United that he is innocent.
By the letter of the law, Maguire is free to travel without restrictions and to lead United for as long as the club deem fit. The fact remains, though, that he is awaiting retrial in a case serious enough for an Aegean court to have initially handed him a suspended 21-month prison sentence. Such is the backlog of appeals in Greece, it could be months, maybe more, before Maguire has the chance to clear his name. Can such a sword of Damocles simply be ignored?
At international level, Maguire has already paid the price, with Gareth Southgate resisting any move to reinstate him in the England squad. But at Old Trafford, his future seems to be set fair, even after the radioactive headlines his holiday in Mykonos has attracted.
It is now a ferocious debate, this question of whether Maguire is worthy of retaining United’s trust. At one level, this is a straightforward issue of due process, of allowing him every avenue to protect his personal and professional reputation. But at another, it is a matter of perception. In the deathless analysis of Keys, the trial in Syros was null and void because Maguire was just “not the type to play the big-time card”. It is the go-to crutch of myopic managers everywhere: a defender can all but slice an opponent in half, but still be blameless in his master’s eyes because he is “not that type of player”.
The argument that Maguire is “not the type” betrays a level of subconscious presumption. It suggests that we are conditioned to believe that Maguire is exactly the type of person, as he insists, to defend his sister in a Mykonos street, but not the type, as Greek prosecutors allege, to ask local police: “Do you know who I am?”
For United, Maguire’s appeal changes the game. But even after the guilty verdict had been read out, there was no recognition of its legitimacy, the club saying only that their player “strongly asserted his innocence”. Would they have dared issue such a response if the ruling had been handed down in a UK court? This is what has antagonised Maguire’s Greek hosts so much; the lack of respect for their judicial system and the assumption that the verdict given in Syros was invalid. In their view, this ugly episode is one that again shows English football at its hubristic worst.
Cryptic message: Harry Maguire’s post on Instagram after he was removed from the England squad